As Cuban farms struggle to produce enough food, the state-run storage and distribution systems are often so inefficient that produce goes to waste.
In one recent case in early January, 100 tons of tomatoes were dispatched to pig farms in Melena del Sur in the Mayabeque province, located next to the capital Havana. They had gone rotten in a municipal food collection depot.
One of the drivers who made the deliveries, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the tomatoes were kept too long in poor storage conditions because no transport had been arranged to take them to retail outlets. He blamed the waste on negligent staff at the collection centre.
The food collection centres are state-run institutions that provide a distribution network for farms of the type known as “Basic Units for Cooperative Production” or UBPCs.
“The principal function of the collection centres is to amass the produce, then select and pack it for dispatch to markets or the tourist industry,” agricultural scientist Rafael Martínez explained. “In many cases, the collection centres also carry out additional functions like providing information on market prices, packaging, and providing [space] for selection and packing.”
Yoel and Yoan Arocha are among the farmers who supply the collection centre in Melena del Sur, and they have lost their tomato crop, worth 50,000 pesos, about 2,000 US dollars.
Others have seen their chilli pepper and cabbage crops go to waste. Even when the produce is sold, they say, they do not get paid as the collection centre does not have enough money.
Local farmer Pastor Arocha is angry with local government in Melena del Sur for not doing enough to stop the waste, especially in light of “how difficult it is for people to get hold of [foodstuffs], and how expensive they are on the rural market”.
As a response to the end of Soviet economic support in the early Nineties, Cuba launched a major agrarian reform in 1993, transforming many state farms into the new UBPCs. The idea was that farmers would have greater autonomy and more incentives to work as their earnings were now tied to productivity.
There are now almost 2,000 UBPCs across Cuba, but the experiment is not seen as wholehearted success. An article published in the state newspaper Juventud Rebelde in January described them as “the black sheep of Cuban agriculture for nearly 20 years”.
The report noted that the UBPCs held 27 per cent of the country’s arable land, but generated only 11 per cent of the food produced in Cuba.
“Nearly a quarter of their land lies unused,” the article said.
Arocha acknowledged that aside from wastage in the depots, “many harvests are lost in the fields because there aren’t the implements needed for the work”.
The shortfall in the volume of food produced and delivered to consumers comes at a high price. Cuba’s economy and planning minister Adel Yzquierdo Rodríguez has , this year nearly two billion dollars will be spent on importing food, more than in 2012. (See Failing Farms Force Cuba to Import Food on this issue.)
Arian Guerra Pérez is an independent journalist in Mayabeque province who reports for the Hablemos Press agency.
This article first appeared on IWPR's website.